All Blacks released for provincial duty
August 23, 2009
New Zealand's Brad Thorn celebrates his side's victory over Australia in Sydney © Getty Images
New Zealand have released the bulk of their squad back to their provinces to ahead of the final leg of their Tri-Nations campaign.
All Blacks coach Graham Henry took aim at Wellington coach Jamie Joseph over his refusal to give some of his All Blacks game time last weekend as the coaches and medical staff released a large list of names who will grace the Air New Zealand Cup in the next fortnight.
After their 19-18 win over the Wallabies here last night, the All Blacks aren't back in action until South Africa's visit to Hamilton on September 12. In the meantime, 12 players will be available for their unions in both round five and six of the Air NZ Cup while another 11 are available for one match, which is at the discretion of their provincial coaches.
All Blacks stars Richie McCaw and Daniel Carter both hoped to play in Canterbury's Ranfurly Shield challenge against Wellington on Saturday, as did teammate Brad Thorn despite describing himself as "a walking carcass" soon after fulltime at ANZ Stadium. And Joseph conceded ground on the issue, saying he would welcome back the likes of Ma'a Nonu and Rodney So'oialo if available.
"We're getting All Blacks back now. Had I known we were going to get All Blacks all year, we probably would have been playing them," Joseph told Sunday News. "It's great. Having these guys available week in, week out for NPC rugby when they're not playing test matches has got to be good for Wellington rugby and rugby in general."
Henry admitted the Joseph affair was messy and they had agreed to disagree.
"I think Jamie Joseph is a hell of a good young guy and a good coach. I just wonder whether this is the correct decision, personally. I've got a lot of respect for the guy and I understand where he's coming from but I wonder in this case whether it is the right one."
Winger Cory Jane was the most affected by Joseph's decision last week and was robbed of the chance to prove himself as incumbent Joe Rokocoko saved his spot with a two-try performance for Auckland.
Henry said it was a tricky balancing act. "There will be a few guys playing. You've just got to get that right and make sure the All Blacks are the No.1 priority. There is a directive, it's a combined discussion with players and Nick Gill, our conditioning coach, and the selectors."
Joseph comes under the microscope this week as he has a swag of All Blacks available to him for the Shield match. Tamati Ellison, Hosea Gear, Cory Jane, Rodney So'oialo, Neemia Tialata and Piri Weepu are all among the group cleared for two weekends while Ma'a Nonu can play in one.
Canterbury coach Rob Penney isn't so fortunate, with just Wyatt Crockett among the players available for two games. McCaw and Thorn are free for one game -- surely the Shield challenge if Penney gets his way -- while Carter and No.8 Kieran Read were deemed to be "sore" by All Blacks medical staff and not released at this stage. A decision on their fitness will be made in coming days.
Nevertheless, Carter was among those who hoped to be released to wear red and black.
"Hopefully. I'll have to see how the body pulls up," he said. "I feel part of that Canterbury team, I've been there right from the start so I'd love to get back there and play as much rugby as I can."
His captain McCaw said, "It wouldn't be a bad idea would it? I'll see how we get over tonight."
And Thorn added ,"I'm pretty keen to throw on a jersey for Canterbury so we'll see what happens. I'll never say I don't like playing rugby but right know I'm feeling shagged. I guess we'll be told, so it could be interesting."
Two players who definitely won't be returning for their provinces are Luke McAlister (fractured cheekbone) and Conrad Smith (strained hamstring). A medical report will be issued tomorrow but Henry expected both would be ruled out for the rest of the Tri-Nations after being injured during last night's bruising test.
Meanwhile, the All Blacks will have a one-day training camp in Christchurch on September 2 before assembling in Hamilton the following Sunday to prepare for the Springboks test.
Players available for two games:
Wyatt Crockett (Canterbury), Aled de Malmanche, Brendon Leonard, (Waikato), Jason Eaton (Taranaki), Tamati Ellison, Hosea Gear, Cory Jane, Rodney So'oialo, Neemia Tialata, Piri Weepu (Wellington), Tanerau Latimer (Bay of Plenty), Isaia Toeava (Auckland)
Players available for one game:
Richie McCaw, Brad Thorn (Canterbury), John Afoa, Jerome Kaino, Joe Rokocoko (Auckland), Jimmy Cowan (Southland), Stephen Donald, Sitiveni Sivivatu (Waikato), Andrew Hore (Taranaki), Ma'a Nonu (Wellington), Tony Woodcock (North Harbour)